Once again, I’ve got a tale from the Before Time, before the Unmentionable Time. Before the Big-C. Back when the outdoors was for walking and venturing, and not just for running screaming to the supermarket, as quickly as you can, before the pox got you. Back when the Alamo Drafthouse, in Albee Square, Brooklyn, New York, premiered the restored, unrated, surprisingly violent, and utterly goofy cut of director Stewart Raffill‘s cult movie, Tammy And The T-Rex.
Having read of this infamous gory cut of what had previously been a straight-to-video children’s movie, I knew I had to sit in attendance with a full theater of ne’er-do-wells to witness one of the weirdest movies (and behind-the-scenes stories) I can remember.
Did you see that shit right below?! Can you imagine how drunkenly ecstatic I was that something so monkey-fuckingly insane was being played in theaters, fully gorgeously restored, and was violent as shit?! What was it, precisely, that I watched that night? Get ready for a doozy…
In their first starring roles, Denise Richards and Paul Walker(?!?) play the titular Tammy and Michael, respectively, the new cheerleader/football player power couple in their high school. George Pilgrim plays Billy, Tammy’s violently unstable ex-boyfriend, who makes it a habit to ride around with his assholish jock friends and harass Michael and Tammy, because this movie is nothing if not full of strong, believable characters.
Speaking of strong believable characters, a few scenes after being introduced to our power couple, we meet Dr. Gunther Wachenstein, and his sex-crazed assistant, Helga (Terry Kiser and Ellen Dubin, respectively); they’ve built a secret lab inside a factory hidden deep in a wild animal sanctuary, and inside this lab they’ve got a mechanical tyrannosaurus rex, with which Wachenstein hopes to implant a human brain to give it consciousness, mobility, and immortality (it gains MAYBE one of those three).
Right on cue, Billy, along with his friends, ambush Michael, beating him unconscious and driving him to the exact animal sanctuary where Dr. Wachenstein is conducting his experiments. The inevitable happens: he is discovered and believed dead, his brain is removed and placed in the robot dinosaur, and he awakens, completely freaked out. Blaming Billy for his current predicament, Michael goes on a rampage, imparting revenge against his tormentors while trying to convince Tammy and her flamboyant friend, Byron (Theo Forsett) that he is not only the old Michael, but needs help returning to his body (spoiler alert: they do locate his body, late in the third act, but it has puetrified and decayed beyond recognition).
By film’s end, Michael has completely accepted his fate as a disembodied brain, watching Tammy through a video camera, as they live together happily.
This movie is fucking crazy, and yet the cast is incredible given the craziness they need to portray. There’s something so innocently goofy about a twenty-something Denise Richards pining away and staring longingly at this mechanical monster, so rigid and devoid of range it can only sway its head from side to side, move its eyes, and open and close its mouth.
And when the violence occurs (and there is a lot of it) it comes fast and gory: heads are bitten off; people are trampled with claws; intestines pulled out (there is a rowdy party halfway through where t-rex Michael goes absolutely slasher film), and it occurs in such a way you have to wonder “How the fuck was this movie originally released as a children’s film (which, yes, it totally was)?”
There’s a weird, yet delightful mix of tone here where director Raffill knew exactly how ridiculous this movie was, and went at it with the demented subtlety of Tom Six.
In a scene where t-rex-Michael attempts to use a phone, the camera just cuts to disembodied arms reaching for a payphone, then a shot of arms reaching up to the t-rex mouth, where it roars and grunts unintelligibly, and then hanging up the phone, before checking for change in the slot.
Byron is played so uproariously, obnoxiously flamboyant he managed to single-handedly force the entire collective Gay Right’s Movement back into the closet, as well as set the BLM movement into overdrive (and yes, of course his character’s full name is “Byron Black”, and yes, the actor playing him is black. What’s the problem?).
For whatever reason, Helga is played as a sex-crazed maniac constantly hitting on every man in her sights (hell, when there was a close-up on her I held my breath and hid under my seat). Everything is so dementedly WEIRD it is refreshing.
History lesson time! Why and how did this movie get made? Well, Director Raffill was approached by a man who claimed to own several South American movie theaters, and who’d had a full-sized animatronic t-rex; the eyes worked, the hands moved, the head and mouth moved.
Asked if he could make a movie with it, Raffill responded with, Yes! Well…they had access to the t-rex for a month, since it was moving to a Texas amusement park at that time.
One week later (and secured locations that were all within 25 minutes of each other), and the crew started filming. Wildfires and jaguar attacks notwithstanding the shoot was underway, as Raffill recalled:
“I was just trying to do a film for people that like wacky movies. In other words, you laugh at the experience that I was facing which is, what the hell are you meant to do with this material? I was sticking all this shit in it, just to make it work. Of course, when you only have a week to work on a script, it is a bit thin! I’m also the biggest plagiarist, I’m constantly asking the cast and crew if they have anything better that they can add.”
I’ve seen a lot of weird movies (I JUST discovered Joe Bob Briggs Last Drive-In in the past month or so…so get the hell ready!), but this is waaaaaaayyyyyy out there (you remember my Velocipastor screening…and you beset believe Theodore Rex is getting a screening soon). To have seen it fully restored, on the big screen, with a bourbon and beer on-hand was fantastic.
And it is refreshing to be able to see the debuts of Denise Richards and a baby-faced Paul Walker (this, clearly, is unlike any other work in the late actor’s tragically short career). Worth every single second, this is a movie that shuts off its own brain so you don’t have to do so, and the world is a better place now that the Gore Cut has been restored.
Oh…and the t-rex never made it to Texas. To this day, no one knows what happened to it. Happy viewing! 12/5 Jaguar Attacks!
*Ring*Ring*! Fun movie calling!
Tammy And The T-Rex is currently streaming on Shudder, and THANK GOD. The world is all the better for it.